Voices: Just saying things isn’t enough, prime minister – even if you can get Prince Charles to say them for you

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Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson at the state opening of parliament on Tuesday  (Getty)
Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson at the state opening of parliament on Tuesday (Getty)

According to the most recent red-hot thinking on the subject, Keir Starmer made a fatal mistake by trying to “take the moral high ground” with regard to the actual prime minister breaking the actual laws he made, especially when it turns out that he’d eaten some dinner while away from home for work.

What he *should* be doing, apparently, is not trying to take the moral high ground, which in this case means obey the law. Instead, he should be winning the Battle of Ideas. He should be coming up with big plans and big policies to beat the Tories. He should be coming up with solutions to the cost of living crisis, to energy prices, to soaring inflation, not just taking the moral high ground. Such a suggestion carried with it the implication that this is somehow harder. That Starmer is resorting to taking the moral high ground because in the Battle of Ideas, he somehow can’t compete.

We turn, at this point, to the Queen’s Speech, read out by Prince Charles, while sitting on a throne next to a little stool with a crown on, which arrived in its own car, which apparently is some kind of centuries old ritual and not what it very much appeared to be. Which was a wondrously elaborate yet ultimately hopeless scheme through which to conceal the plainly obvious fact that the government hasn’t got a clue what to do about anything.

The words “cost of living” appeared in the intro, slotted in right at the top and dutifully read out by Prince Charles while Prince William took his place on the other side of the crown and stared into the middle distance, trying not to look the long decades of his terrifyingly tedious future too closely in the eye.

And that was it. The subject never returned to again. In the Battle of Ideas that Keir Starmer must win, this was the sum total of shots fired by his opponent. That’s all he’s got. Just say the words cost of living in the intro, you know, at the point at which hopefully everyone’s still paying attention, and that should do it.

Keir Starmer has spent six months or more saying that he would introduce a windfall tax on the huge profits of the energy companies and use them to lower bills of the poorest people by up to £600 a year. But also, apparently, he has to stop taking the moral high ground and start winning the Battle of Ideas.

The prime minister also had the prince read out the words: “The government will grow the economy, ease the burden and level up the UK.”

Not long after, one of his most loyal MPs of all, Jake Berry, was on the radio, saying that, yes “no one knows what levelling up means, but when we see it, we’ll all know”. His boss is already more than halfway through his allocated time in which to achieve his mission to level up the country and somehow we are still at the point when his most ardently loyal supporters can’t tell you what it means because there is absolutely no evidence anywhere of any of it having happened.

Still, this is the Battle of Ideas that must be won. “The government will grow the economy.” That’s it, too. That’s the lot. It is only me that sees the words and sees a now notorious picture of the prime minister, doing a double thumbs up and announcing on New Years Eve 2019, “This is going to be a fantastic year for Britain”, shortly before the economy shrank by about 10 per cent and 100,000 or so people died.

On this subject, Johnson loyalists like to say that it would be wrong to do anything about the cost of living crisis now because it will be even worse this winter. Apparently, you can’t tax the energy companies because they need that money to “invest in the energy revolution”. And you also definitely shouldn’t listen to the heads of those energy companies, like say, BP’s Bernard Looney, who insist on going on the radio and saying that all the investments they’re making in clean energy they would definitely be doing anyway, and that a windfall tax wouldn’t stop them.

This, too, is the Battle of Ideas that Keir Starmer must win. How do you tax the energy companies to make people’s bills cheaper when the energy companies are, in effect, begging you to do it, but the prime minister refuses? It’s hardly surprising he’s just running off to the moral high ground when faced with a battle as tough as that.

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“The government will grow the economy.” As it happens, while Prince Charles was being forced to read out those words, the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, was yet again putting it about that the government is going to legislate to suspend the Northern Ireland protocol and launch an unwinnable trade war with the EU, because that is exactly what’s required in these difficult times.

We are long past the point at which Just Saying Things isn’t enough, even if you can get Prince Charles to say them for you. At time of typing, Tory HQ is said to be cock-a-hoop with its Beergate operation. Which has, in their eyes, possibly dragged Keir Starmer down to about a tenth of their level, for a day or two. This remains their loftiest ambition. Their best shot.

They really, really are this bad. Not merely criminal but criminally clueless too.

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